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Saudi cell phone market set for aggressive competition this Hajj season - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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File photo showing a Hajj pilgrim using a cellphone in Mecca. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

File photo showing a Hajj pilgrim using a cellphone in Mecca. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia’s ‘big three’ wireless carriers will be launching aggressive marketing campaigns this Hajj season in a bid to capture a larger share of the prepaid SIM card market, which booms each year in the Kingdom with the arrival of the annual Muslim pilgrimage.

Asharq Al-Awsat has learned that all three cellular carriers—Zain, STC and Mobily—will together be supplying the market with an additional 1 million new prepaid SIM cards during the Hajj season in October, the majority of which will be marketed directly to pilgrims coming from abroad.

Sector expert Ghanem Selim told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Profits [for Saudi cell phone providers] rise noticeably during the Hajj and Umrah seasons, with a large number of [prepaid SIM] cards sold.”

The Kingdom’s cell phone market is dominated by prepaid cards, which account for 86.5 percent of the market, according to the country’s Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC). This jumps further during the holy months, when millions of pilgrims visit Saudi Arabia from abroad.

Selim said the fierce competition between the three companies during the Hajj season will add value for the consumer, leading to lower prices and better services offered.

He also added that during this year’s Hajj he expected there would be “wider competition” between the three companies to offer improved Internet services for customers using the prepaid cards.

Sources with knowledge of the situation have told Asharq Al-Awsat that Zain will be looking to widen its broadband Internet network throughout the Kingdom in the coming months in a bid to capture a larger slice of the highly lucrative and competitive market.

Mobile broadband penetration in the Kingdom reached 66 percent in the first quarter of 2014, with over 20 million subscribers, according to the CITC.

Meanwhile, all three operators have said they have received an increasing number of complaints from subscribers regarding unsolicited text spamming.

Sources with knowledge of the situation have told Asharq Al-Awsat the operators have asked the CITC to help with the problem, which they have claimed is “not their responsibility.”

The CITC has set up a specialized page on its website where users can fill in details from the offending text messages, which the sources said are usually sent out by marketing companies using pools of numbers belonging to subscribers.